Mason Police Department releases five-year use-of-force study

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By Henrik Blix
Mason Times staff writer

MASON—A study by the Mason Police Department revealed that most incidents involving a use of force by police occur at night and involve people using drugs or alcohol.

The study documented every incident in which officers used force on subjects and categorized each incident by level of force used, contributing factors and time of day.

The types of force used by the Mason P.D.

The types of force used by the Mason P.D.

Levels of force were categorized as soft empty hand control, hard empty hand control, pepper spray deployed, Taser pointed, Taser deployed and firearm pointed. According to the report, a firearm has not been discharged at a subject since 2008.

Sgt. Don Hanson said the data mostly reinforced what officers already know, but any information can only help.

“It shows we’re doing our job and we’re a transparent department,” said Officer Matt Thorne, a defensive tactics instructor for the department.

Thorne said the number of incidents has stayed relatively stable, with no significant increase or decline over the past five years.

Hanson and Thorne said the data can help the department adjust staffing in response to what time of day incidents typically occur.

According to the study, 89 percent of all use of force incidents occurred from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. with 56 percent of all incidents occurring from 6 p.m. to midnight.

The officers said the study also helps them understand what factors contribute to the use of force.

A graph of factors that were present when force was used

A graph of factors that were present when force was used

The study determined the three main factors that contribute to use of force are alcohol or drug use, mental illness and domestic disagreements. The study concluded that almost every use of force was because of one of the three factors, with incidents often involving a combination of the three.

“One of the things that kind of surprised me was how much contact we have with people who have mental health issues,” Hanson said.

Hanson said there are a lot of people who aren’t getting the help they need, which can lead to alcohol or drug use. He said the combination of inebriation and mental illness often causes unpredictable and resistant behavior that leads police to apply force.

The study and the officers indicate that alcohol and drugs are the primary factor that leads to use of force.

According to the study, during the 108 applications of force from 2008 to 2012, 73 times the resisting subject was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“We know that not everyone on alcohol and drugs resists the police, but most people that resist the police are under the influence of drugs and alcohol,” said Hanson.

Thorne said the basis for determining what level of force is appropriate is the Michigan Law Enforcement Officer-Subject Control Continuum, which describes various levels of resistance and the degree of force that should be used in response.

Hanson said officers have training to help them determine appropriate levels of force, but in reality, use of force is often a matter of officers’ judgment because of the varying degrees of unpredictability and resistance.

“You have to use reasonable force based on the totality of the circumstances,” Hanson said.

Thorne said a superior reviews every application of force.

“I’ve been here seven years and we’ve never had one that’s been deemed inappropriate or too much force.”

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